Dubai: The UAE Olympic football team arrived back in Dubai on Thursday evening with their heads held high, having made a positive impression in their first major football tournament appearance since the 1990 Fifa World Cup.
Creditable defeats to Uruguay 2-1 and Great Britain 3-1 and a 1-1 draw with Senegal may have seen the UAE crash out in the group phase of London 2012, but the manner in which they went down fighting has won the team global recognition and reignited hopes for the future.
Senegal’s Mousa Konate, the competition’s current top-scorer with four goals, picked out midfielder Omar Abdul Rahman’s performances in particular. “Number 15 [Omar Abdul Rahman] is a very good player and very intelligent and plays well, in addition to number five [Amer Abdul Rahman],” Konate said after his goal earned Senegal a draw in Wednesday’s match.
“I think that this match [against the UAE] was the most difficult throughout the tournament, because there is no pressure on them, and so they played well and showed good movement on the pitch. It was difficult for us to play well in front of them.”
His thoughts echoed an earlier assessment by Great Britain defender Micah Richards. “Number 15 is a very good player who plays beautiful football,” said the Manchester City star. “He’ll be one of those players we should keep an eye on in the future.
“The UAE deserved to win their previous match against Uruguay and I don’t think either one of their matches has been fair to them because they played pretty well.”
Esmail Mattar, the UAE’s top scorer in the competition with two goals, said: “We had good matches, despite losing the first two. We tried our best from the beginning but we were unsuccessful, despite excellence in the last two matches.
“We elected a strong side and had a good game so we could finish our Olympic journey well, in order to prove that the UAE has a good team for the future. That is the most important gain of this Olympics.
“The target was to seek reconciliation. It’s wonderful to score two goals in the competition but this was a culmination of all the efforts of my teammates. I do not see personal gain, what I care about is the good of the team and I had hoped to complete our journey by qualifying to the second round, but no luck unfortunately.”
UAE defender Hamdan Al Kamali said: “We are satisfied with the performances and heroism in general from the first game until the last and everyone praises the team and its performance.
“But it’s the opinion not only of the team but everyone: if we had been in another group we would have qualified to the second round. Greater teams than us have been knocked out so we can be proud of our performance.”